The first lawsuit stemming from the fatal collision two weeks ago on Interstate 5 between a FedEx truck and a charter bus carrying high school students from Southern California was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Rosa Rivera, the mother of Dorsey High School student Jennifer Bonilla, seeks $100 million in general and punitive damages. Bonilla, along with four other students, three chaperones, and the bus and truck drivers died in the crash near Orland on April 10. The FedEx driver, Timothy Paul Evans, 32, was from Elk Grove, and the driver of the Silverado Stages bus, Talalelei Lealao-Taiao, 53, was from Sacramento.
A. King Aminpour, the attorney representing Rivera, said he has been contacted by representatives of other victims’ families but has not been formally retained by them.
Evans was driving the FedEx tractor-trailer southbound on I-5 at 5:40 p.m. when it suddenly veered across the median, clipped a northbound Nissan Altima, then smashed into the northbound bus packed with high school students on their way to visit Humboldt State University. The vehicles burst into flames and those aboard the bus scrambled for exits.
Some witnesses reported that the FedEx truck was on fire before it struck the bus.
Aminpour said the suit alleges that FedEx is negligent in operating its vehicles and in training and disciplining its drivers. The lawsuit states FedEx Corp. and FedEx Freight Inc. have a history of their trucks catching fire, either due to mechanical problems, driver error or improper loading of cargo, yet FedEx has taken no steps to remedy this problem.
FedEx spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it wasn’t an “appropriate time.”
“At this stage, our condolences are with all the families,” she said. “We’re still working with the authorities and fully cooperating with the investigation.”
The suit also names as defendants the estate of the FedEx driver, Evans, and the bus company, Silverado Stages.
The lawsuit claims the bus was not equipped with enough emergency exits.
A representative of Silverado Stages did not return a phone call Wednesday evening seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Aminpour said personally naming Evans is procedurally necessary, but the intent is not to seek damages from his family. FedEx would be responsible for any monetary damages if Evans were found to have been negligent, he said.
Jonathan G. Stein, an attorney for Evans’ family, said, “At this time, we have not seen the lawsuit. We will have no comment on any pending litigation. However, we strongly believe everyone should wait until the authorities have completed their investigation before reaching any conclusions.”
Aminpour said his firm has handled numerous personal injury cases involving commercial carriers. The lawsuit could be amended based on the outcome of the investigation, he said, but it is critical to move forward quickly with legal action after such incidents.
“We treat cases like doctors treat cancer,” he said. “We don’t procrastinate. We want to get in when testimony is fresh and do our own investigation.”
Philip Aman, a San Diego attorney who has worked on previous tractor-trailer lawsuits, said plaintiffs should expect a long fight.
“Even under these types of circumstances, trucking companies will fight,” he said. “Certainly, Federal Express will be analyzing everything from their own perspective with respect to what happened.”
Attorneys in the case, he said, would be looking at three issues: man, machine and environment, examining how each factor contributed to the incident.
“There’s still so many possibilities, it can go in so many different directions,” Aman said of the investigation. “It’s going to be a complicated case.”
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.